When purchasing a road bike, take into consideration your intended use and budget. The type of frame materials your choose, including aluminum, carbon or titanium, will factor heavily into your budget. Some bike frames and forks are purely one type of material, and others may be a combination of materials. Each of these materials have benefits and drawbacks to consider before making a purchase.
Entry Level Aluminum
The biggest benefit of aluminum frames is cost. Aluminum provides the most economical frame choice, making it easy to find a solid entry-level road bike for less than $1,000 at the time of publication. Aluminum frames are lightweight, responsive, strong and rigid, so they're great bikes for climbing. A major drawback of aluminum is that it's not great at dimming road vibration. As a result, these frames usually aren't as comfortable as frames made from other materials. Because aluminum doesn't allow for much flex, it usually has a shorter lifespan than carbon and titanium. Over time, road vibration, coupled with the weight of a rider, causes aluminum to break down. The tubing on these frames is often larger in diameter than carbon or titanium bikes to limit the flexing that occurs during rides.
Like aluminum, carbon is lightweight and responsive, but it's a little more expensive. Carbon isn't a metal like other frame materials. Rather, these frames are made from gluing fabric fibers together with resin. This makes for a very malleable frame material that's stiff and effective at dimming road vibration. The ride of a carbon bike usually feels fast and zippy, giving cyclists the ability to "feel the road" while maintaining speed and comfort. The big drawback of carbon fiber is that it's not the most durable material. The lifespan of carbon fiber is usually better than aluminum, but when these frames experience impact, they can be cracked and become irreparably damaged.
Titanium is the must durable and longest-lasting frame material, but it's also the most expensive. Titanium combines the best qualities of other frame materials: the smooth ride of steel, the light weight of aluminum and the responsiveness of carbon. Titanium is corrosion-resistant, and because it's so strong, it's an appropriate material for cross-country and mountain bikes. If you're going to invest in a titanium frame, consider getting one custom built to match your body. A titanium frame is a substantial investment, but it will outlast any other frame material.
What's Best For You?
Before deciding which frame to buy, consider your budget, intended use and weight. Larger riders, heavier than about 170 pounds, are best off purchasing a frame made of a more durable material, such as steel or titanium. Aluminum and carbon fiber frames are more suitable for lightweight riders. If you're on a tight budget, aluminum can provide you with many lightweight bike options -- but you may also want to consider steel, which is durable, inexpensive, and provides a smoother ride. If cost isn't a significant factor, or you intend to use the bike for racing, you're best off purchasing a carbon or titanium frame.
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